Ashley McKenzie achieved the best result of his career by winning a bronze medal at the EJU European Championships in Budapest, but it wasn’t such a remarkable day for the rest of Great Britain’s judo contingent.
It was the first major championship for McKenzie since a disappointing appearance at London 2012 and, after receiving a bye in the first round of the -60kg competition, it looked like going pear-shaped in Hungary. Fortunately, McKenzie fought back from being a waza-ari down against Elnur Alijev of Estonia to grab the crucial ippon and progressed. Later fights in the semifinal and third place match were much closer affairs, losing the former to two yukos. A bronze medal showdown with the experienced Austrian Ludwig Paischer saw the youngster score two yukos of his own to win the medal.
“It feels amazing to win a bronze here today at the Europeans in Budapest and it also means I’m on course to make it to the (IJF) Masters at the end of May,” said McKenzie after the victory. British coach Darren Warner added: “I’m delighted for Ashley today and his coach Luke Preston. I felt that Ashley showed a lot of maturity, especially in his first fight when he went down a score. His semi-final was close and maybe on a different day he would be European Champion but in the end beating a world and Olympic medallist for the bronze is just reward for all his hard work.”
It wasn’t such a spectacular first day for some other British judoka. Graham Trinder lost out to Under-23 European Champion Yanislav Gerchev of Bulgaria in the same weight category, and the Renicks sisters – lost their opening bouts to go home empty-handed. 19-year-old Nekoda Davis enjoyed a good start to her debut championships, beating European junior bronze medallist Emma Pettersson from Sweden, but was knocked out later on. Connie Ramsay had a stiffer task and was unable to get past World junior bronze medallist Ivelina Ilieva.
Megan Fletcher is one of several Brits getting their competitions under way tomorrow, accompanied by Patrick Dawson and Jan Gosiewski. Fletcher, who is competing alongside her brother, Ben, is using these championships to enhance her rankings in advance of the 2016 Olympics in Rio.